Reviewing The CSA Final Five


Final Five

Curious about what other readers are saying about this year’s CSA final five? As part of the ongoing introduction of the finalists, today we offer additional excerpts from readers posting on their blogs or reviewing for online organizations.

* Liberator by Bryan Davis

I found myself highlighting great quotes throughout the book, as the characters struggled to free the slaves, cure disease, live up to their individual callings, determine who could be trusted, and ultimately, reconcile their worlds with the Creator who designed them. This is a complicated series with a lot happening on different levels, and this last book will keep you on your toes as you follow the exciting adventures.
Hammock Librarian

    The most compelling aspect of Liberator is the way in which Davis uses the tropes of high fantasy literature – crystals, swords, shape-shifting, and, yes, even those dragons – to deal with universal themes in a symbolic way. . . Though the language is advanced and the mythology complicated, it’s a sure bet that young readers with an appetite for these sorts of stories will hunger for more of Davis’ dragon tales.
    Crosswalk.com

Davis has written a fast-paced, action-packed novel with a pinch of romance that is sure to capture the interest of teens who love fantasy. Mythological characters such as dragons, Diviners, and starlighters fill the pages and pull the reader into the world of Starlight. Plot driven, this book reveals each character more through their actions than their inner thoughts. There is a clear theme of good versus evil as those who serve the Creator fight to free those enslaved by the evil dragon forces.
Christian Library Journal

* A Throne Of Bones by Vox Day

    I enjoyed it immensely. Vox Day isn’t the prose stylist George R. R. Martin is, but he’s not bad. On the plus side we have a complicated, complex story with interesting and sympathetic, fully rounded characters. There are few out-and-out villains – everybody is doing what they think right. And unlike Martin’s stories, the fact that someone is virtuous and noble does not guarantee them a painful and ignominious death. In terms of pure story, Vox Day’s book is much more rewarding. And Christianity is treated not only with respect, but as a true part of the cosmos.

But overall this is a very readable book that made me want to keep on reading. It is, in turn, humorous, shocking and exciting. There are beautiful moments, there is clever dialogue, there is deep mystery. It took some level of genius to write it. I recommend you read it.
The Responsible Puppet

    What makes this book both an entertaining and fascinating read is that Vox draws on his rather tremendous depth of knowledge and literary theory to create a world that is quite imaginative and “realistic,” which is in turn populated with characters that are interesting, sympathetic, and multi-dimensional.
    Allusions of Grandeur

* Mortal by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee

The duo of Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee have pooled their talents once again to build a story world reminiscent of another Dekker hit, The Circle. Dekker’s zealous and sometimes nearing maniacal emphasis on the themes of darkness and light is evident in full force and Lee’s power of prose paints word pictures to be remembered (emphasis in the original).
t.e. George

    The world Dekker and Lee created when they wrote this series is compelling and symbolic in a number of ways. I found myself pondering the redemptive meaning of Christ’s sacrifice and the use of His blood for our atonement in a deeper way because of this book. I also saw in the story how deception hardens the heart and at the same time how intense and overwhelming our Savior’s love is for mankind despite our many flaws.
    Michelle’s book review blog

What I love about Dekker’s and Lee’s books is not that they are gripping and intense reading, although they are, nor is it the great writing. It’s the fact that I’ve grown in my understanding of myself, and my relationship to my Savior, and others when I finish them. Their books are the best fictional allegories to the Kingdom of Heaven, and the life of being a true follower of Christ that I have ever read.
Reading Reviews

* Starflower by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

    My Thoughts: This had to have been my favorite of the [Tales of Goldstone Wood] series so far. I absolutely loved it. The imagery is amazing, the setting so detailed, and the characters are a hilarious. I could barely put this book down for wanting to know what would happen next.
    Like a lot of fans, I absolutely love Sir Eanrin and was so glad to find out that he would be a main character in this story. Usually I don’t like cats, but he is an exception. 🙂
    Backing Books

Here are the things I did in fact enjoy about the book:
1. The world building was excellent, far better than I thought it would have been. I really got the sense of being there right along side of the characters.
2. The story itself. I really enjoyed the plot, mystery, and how the story unfolded with each PART within the book. The book was written in three parts, one in the present day, one the past (part 2), and then once again back to the present where there the story as a whole begins to make complete sense. The ending was beautiful and I dare say I cried a bit. *tissues may be needed*
3. Starflower. She was a real and believable character. I found her to be very kind, and self-sacrificing for the ones she loved. Her jounany [sic] and hardships made her stronger, not bitter.
Bittersweet Enchantment

    the story is not driven by action. Instead, it delves into character–not simply the beings, whether mortal or Faerie, but the very lands in which they dwell, as well. One could practically smell the lushness of the jungle-type atmosphere Starflower grows up in; the Merry Halls of Rudiobus become ingrained in one’s mind. And the fallen city of Etalpalli IS a character–a very wrathful, dangerous creature. The way Stengl wrote the scenes in which the very streets do not stay still…. it gave me shivers.
    And if you’re the type of reader who wants action in a novel, well, it’s definitely here. Whether it’s facing demonic wolves, running from a giant hound, or leaping off bridges, there is something there for everyone. But the action is not the sort that precedes and overwhelms the substance. Starflower is a novel to be savoured for the layers it weaves.
    The Other World

* Prophet by R. J. Larson

Its YA tone will likely make Prophet most engaging to teen readers, but all ages will be able to relate to the spiritual themes. As a historical fantasy, this has the potential to engage a wider range of readers, especially those with an interest in Biblical history. And if you’re looking for something unique in the Christian fantasy market, you may want to give this a try.
Sarah Sawyer

    Truly, the “Infinite” of Ela of Parne is the Lord I love and serve as well. I found some of the parallels and words of wisdom presented in a way that touched my spirit and really spoke to my heart.
    I thought this story was well thought out, believable and yet still held that fantasy element to it that drew me in. I can’t wait to pick up book two [of the Books of the Infinite series]!
    A Simply Enchanted Life

R. J. Larson brings the biblical stories to the present and makes it easy for a younger reader to relate to. The author has an excellent use of concise prose, and draws the reader in with her multifaceted characters. The cover is beautiful, and the story of a young girl who deals with her unworthiness of being called as a prophet is believable and not overdone. Personally, I loved this book and will be reading the rest of the series as they are released.
Readers’ Realm

Don’t forget, voting ends on Sunday at midnight (Pacific time).

Cross posted at CSA.

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CSFF Tour Wrap – Starflower by Anne Elisabeth Stengl


CSFFTopBloggerDec2012Call it small and intimate, but I say it packed a punch! I’m referring to the December CSFF Blog Tour for Starflower, fourth in the Tales of Goldstone Wood series by Anne Elisabeth Stengl.

The book wasn’t controversial, so it didn’t generate long discussions or posts countering other posts. What it did produce, for the most part, were favorable reviews, and a few that fall into the rave category. Clearly, Starflower has earned its author fans among the CSFF participants. That’s a successful tour, I say.

Sixteen of us participated, generating a total of thirty articles. Of those sixteen, these are eligible for the December Top Tour Blogger Award:

I waited to post this wrap until after Christmas, hoping that visitors would soon return to normal blog reading habits after the busy-ness of the holiday season, but of course there is still New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day coming . . .

I hope you can squeeze in some time to review these excellent posts and then add your vote for the blogger you think deserves the last CSFF award of 2012. You’ll have until midnight (Pacific time) Monday, January 7 to vote.

Published in: on December 27, 2012 at 5:01 pm  Comments (2)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Starflower by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Day 3


StarflowerGrimm or Tangled? Once Upon A Time or Snow White? Since fairytales aren’t what they used to be, readers may not be sure what they’re getting when they pick up a book touted as a fairytale fantasy.

Starflower, book four of the Tales of Goldstone Wood series by Anne Elisabeth Stengl is somewhat of a mix of the two extremes. While the covers of each of the books in the series might lead a reader to think along the lines of the happy-ever-after stories, there’s a great deal of the dark side of fairytales in the pages behind those placid pictures.

A Review

The Story Eanrin, a faery who can take the shape of a cat, is the poet of Rudiobus Mountain. He, like the others in this faery kingdom, is light-hearted, self-assured, perhaps a little bored. His world turns around when he sees the Golden Hound–something that would not have happened if he hadn’t stopped to help a mortal girl caught in a curse because she went too close to the river.

The girl turns out to be cursed in more ways than one because she cannot speak. Against his better judgment, Eanrin saves her more than once and determines he must see her safely out of the faery realm.

The problem is, he’s on a mission. The professed love of his life has been taken captive by a dragon woman. In order to win his love’s hand, he must rescue her before Glomar, the captain of the guard, does. The race is on! But the cursed mortal makes Eanrin’s life … confusing.

Starflower is cursed, but not in the way Eanrin thinks. After he saves her from certain death, yet again, she determines she will help him rescue his professed love. To do so, she makes a bargain with the dragon that unleashes more than the captive faery.

Strengths. There are many things to love in this story. The writing is beautiful; the characters memorable, unique, creative, realistic; the plot, unpredictable; the theme, woven subtly into the fabric of the story.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the story is the portrayal of the title character. The mortal girl Starflower is a heroine to love. She is not weak and helpless, suffering as a victim, awaiting someone to rescue her. Nor is she a macho woman, out to conquer or to shed blood trying.

Rather, she is a character who withstands. She chooses to do what is right when it goes against her culture, to love when she is shamed for it, to sacrifice rather than give in. She is truly noble.

I also loved the way the theme is subtly woven into the story. There is no long exposition detailing how and why and who at the appearance of the Golden Hound. He simply is who he is.

Another wonderful strength of this book is the creativity of the world. From the river to the enchanted and vacant city of Etalpalli to the lands of the Crescent Tribes, the world is rich, detailed, unexpected, sometimes magical in the best sense of the word and sometimes in the worst.

An interesting aspect of the story is the humor–the light-hearted behavior of the faeries who don’t take too much in life seriously, who have little worry and less fear. Eanrin in particular reminds me most of Shakespeare’s fairy Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He’s not such a great prankster, but he has the same “faery-ness.”

Weakness. I am a huge fan of Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s, as you can probably tell by what I’ve already said. Nevertheless, I’d prefer a story that had a stronger start. Because the book is entitled Starflower, I’d prefer to see the title character front and center. I realize that withholding her backstory is designed to create intrigue, but since her past is such a huge part of the story and comes out as a fairly lengthy flashback, I think I’d have connected sooner and cared more deeply if the story had started with Starflower and her plight. As it was, I thought the story unfolded too slowly.

That’s my only complaint, but it’s a big one because I can see readers mistakenly setting the book down and not coming back to it, thinking the pace isn’t going to pick up.

I’d like to shout loudly, keep going! 😉

Recommendation. Fairytale fantasy is an interesting genre. Not everyone will enjoy the Alice in Wonderland feel that seeps into Starflower at times. That’s too bad because they’ll miss out on some of the most inventive fiction in the Christian speculative genre.

I personally think “young adult” isn’t quite the right market group. I’d say this one will best be enjoyed by the twenties and thirties crowd. Anyone who is a fan of the fairytale genre, especially the new iteration made popular by the TV shows mentioned earlier, must read Starflower and the entire Tales of Goldstone Wood series.

Faery Stories – CSFF Blog Tour: Starflower, Day 2


Starflower Banner
Good fiction always means something. Literature teachers spend any amount of effort teaching their students to look behind a story to find a greater truth, a universal moral. Fairytales are no exception. In fact, they may suffer from literary snobbery because their themes seem too transparent, too simplistic.

In part I think such snubs come from readers associating fairytales with stories for children, designed to teach them not to talk to strangers or to obey their parents—in other words, stories that don’t demand much of adults.

I believe this view in part comes from the Disney-fying of fairytales in the twentieth century in which they were pushed into the corner of make-believe suited for children.

Welcome to the faery stories of the twenty-first century! These are more closely aligned to the original tales told and retold until they were collected and written down by people like the Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Anderson.

Those original stories were not intended exclusively for children. In fact, they were not set aside as a special class of story. Rather, they constituted the fiction of the day. Instead of being light stories fit for children, most had a dark edge, a bit of the macabre or the paranormal.

In our day of assiduously categorizing our fiction, we have had some work to reclaim faery stories from the trivialized classification of the last century. Authors like Anne Elisabeth Stengl are doing a remarkable job accomplishing this feat for readers of Christian speculative fiction.

Her latest, the CSFF feature for December, is Starflower, book four of the Tales of Goldstone Wood series.

Fourth in a series might scare off some readers–I mean, who wants to jump into the middle of a string of stories and be lost? As Anne Elisabeth herself said, however, Starflower is a great place to start because it is a prequel to the first three books. It reads very much like a stand alone, but knowing the title to the next book, I’m confident there will be a strong connection between that story and this one. In short, Starflower is the book fans of fairytale fantasy need to pick up.

And now a couple tour highlights

  • Meagan @ Blooming with Books has an outstanding interview with Anne Elisabeth. Here’s the first question and part of the answer.
    1) Tales from Goldstone Woods has such a depth to it. Where did the inspiration for this series come from?

    The initial inspiration for this series was simply my love of all things Fairy Tale. I wanted to write a series of inter-connected novels that used classic and familiar fairy tale themes and took them in unexpected directions.

  • Gillian continues her book-giveaway contest with a discussion of the characters in Starflower. Leave your comment to become eligible for the drawing. Leave your comment each day and increase your chance to win.
  • Shannon McDermott, an astute CSFF reviewer, gives her impressions, ending with this:
    The story was unexpected, and landscapes and people rose up brilliantly from the pages. This book was a surprise to me. I had expected it to be good, but I didn’t think it would be incredible.

Are all the reviews uniformly favorable? No, actually not. But one that was sort of so-so, yet nonetheless accurate, was written by Robert Treskillard‘s daughter. Since this book came to us as a young adult fairytale, he asked his twelve-year-old to read and review it, figuring she was bordering the target audience. She herself concluded otherwise, ending her review with this: “Overall I would recommend this book for readers 16 and up.” Spot on, Ness!

Be sure to visit the other participants (listed at the end of this post) and read their thoughts about this book and the others in the Tales of Goldstone Wood.